When the Philadelphia Flyers selected Nicolas Aube-Kubel with the 48th pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, there was reason to be cautiously optimistic about the organization's newest forward prospect. Despite minimal even strength and power play ice time in the QMJHL, Aube-Kubel still managed to post solid scoring numbers and flash high-end offensive instincts.
Aube-Kubel remained a longshot, as are all draft picks taken outside of the early first round. But for an organization (and fanbase) starved for a forward prospect with NHL upside higher than a "bottom-six forward with limited skill," Aube-Kubel was a breath of much-needed fresh air. And after a stellar age-18 season with the Val d'Or Foreurs, fans are really beginning to dream on the young winger's promise.
Around this time last year, Nicolas Aube-Kubel placed 15th in the summer Top 25 Under 25 rankings here at Broad Street Hockey. Aube-Kubel was only two months removed from being a second round choice in the 2014 NHL Draft, and as Kurt mentioned at the time, his aggressive ranking said more about the weakness of the Flyers' pipeline than it did Aube-Kubel's long-term potential.
Fast forward twelve months. The Flyers prospect pool has improved by leaps and bounds under general manager Ron Hextall, both in terms of overall depth and high-end talent. Yet Aube-Kubel's stock did not drop or even stagnate in the wake of increased competition. Instead, he justifiably finds himself in the top ten of all Philadelphia assets under the age of 25 - a testament to his hard work and a very impressive age-18 season in the QMJHL.
Aube-Kubel's draft year season was good enough to catch Philadelphia's attention. But the raw numbers (53 points in 65 games) were far from mind-blowing, especially for a supposedly high-skilled forward prospect. However, what the statistics missed was the minimal ice time that Aube-Kubel received during the season.
The fantastic CHL Stats website contains an "Estimated Percentage of TOI" tool, which attempts to approximate the ice time of Canadian junior hockey players. According to their metrics, Aube-Kubel ranked seventh among Val d'Or forwards in share of even strength ice time during his draft year, behind a host of experienced players led by Detroit prospect Anthony Mantha.
Despite the deflated ice time, Aube-Kubel racked up an estimated 3.5 points per 60 minutes at even strength, good for fourth on his team and second among all draft eligible QMJHL forwards in 2013-14. The underlying stats painted a picture of a highly efficient player, despite ranking low on his team's depth chart.
So 2014-15 saw Aube-Kubel get a dramatic increase in ice time, leading to a breakout offensive season, right? Maybe not.
According to CHL Stats, the Flyers prospect did receive more (estimated) ice time, as he skated during 18.27% of all 5v5 minutes versus 15.82% in 2013-14. But that still placed him a relatively low eighth among Foreurs forwards. The reason for his increased offensive production was that he became even more efficient than in his draft year, this time scoring 4.4 points per 60 minutes of even strength.
What may be most impressive is that Aube-Kubel put up these statistics despite a slow start to the season. In his first 23 games, Aube-Kubel scored only 20 points - a pace not far off from that of his draft year. He also battled a knee injury throughout November, caused by a collision with Quebec forward Adam Erne.
But once December began, Aube-Kubel took over. In the final 38 games of the regular season, he scored 60 points, good for a fantastic 1.57 PPG. For reference, recent signing Danick Martel averaged 1.59 points per game last season in the QMJHL, and he happens to be two years older than Aube-Kubel.
The Flyers prospect has clearly established himself as one of the more dynamic forwards in the QMJHL. And at development camp this summer, Aube-Kubel showcased one of his key attributes - his acceleration. According to CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio, he won the speed burst test at camp, going from goal line to top-of-circle in 1.69 seconds.
In the past, the Flyers have also come away impressed with Aube-Kubel's dedication to the game. Terry Murray specifically singled out the forward for his fitness level at last year's camp, which seems to have paid dividends during his breakout campaign.
"[Aube-Kubel's] conditioning is really good. He’s a young kid who obviously put a lot of time in the summer time to get the level of pace to where it is today."
According to Daniel Spevak of CSNPhilly.com, Aube-Kubel checked into camp at 196 pounds, almost a ten-pound increase over his draft weight. And considering he stands 5'11'' in height, Aube-Kubel really does not need to put on many more pounds to have an NHL frame.
What he does need to work on are the usual flaws in a talented young scoring prospect: tightening up defensive zone coverage, improving strength to win battles in the corners and in front of the net, and developing offensive consistency. But the raw skillset seems to be already there.
Aube-Kubel will almost certainly spend at least one more year at the junior hockey level, as he remains too young for the AHL and not high enough on the organizational depth chart to challenge for an NHL spot at camp. Instead, his main focus will be to build off his strong finish to last season, and to earn a spot on Team Canada's roster at the World Junior Championships. Aube-Kubel impressed at the Summer Showcase earlier this month, but he's a bubble forward who will be hard-pressed to earn a spot.
Considering his stellar rate statistics in juniors, it's exciting to imagine a scenario where Aube-Kubel combines the efficiency of his last two seasons with heavy minutes to emerge as an elite scorer in the QMJHL this season. If he does so, it will be hard for Team Canada to keep him off the team, and even harder for the Philadelphia Flyers to keep their expectations tempered.
How we voted for Nicolas Aube-Kubel:
Who we voted for at No. 10:
|Samuel Morin||Anthony Stolarz||Nick Cousins||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Nick Cousins||Taylor Leier||Nick Cousins||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Anthony Stolarz||Radel Fazleev||Robert Hagg||Anthony Stolarz|